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Tidal and diel effects on the movement and space use of bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and bonnetheads (Sphyrna tiburo) in a Florida Estuary


Large estuaries are often highly productive and biodiverse areas of ecological and economical significance. Assessing the movement behavior and space use patterns of mobile organisms in these highly dynamic areas is critical for understanding ecological dynamics within systems. Fine-scale movement data, which is useful for successful species management and conservation, is lacking for ecologically relevant species in many estuarine systems, due to the demands for fine-scale data collection methods and increased use of more passive tracking methods. Six bonnetheads (Sphyrna tiburo) and four bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) were tracked within the Apalachicola Bay system using active acoustic telemetry for periods up to 52 h to compare space use patterns and rates of movement across tidal and diel cycles. Tidal and diel periods had significant effects on the rate of movement (ROM) of both species, with increased ROM during crepuscular periods. Movement behavior was likely driven by a combination of optimal foraging strategies, predator avoidance, and abiotic factors. Unique movement behaviors exhibited by mature bonnetheads provide clarity for their high bycatch rates in the Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl and should be considered during the formulation of conservation and management measures for the species. By comparing simultaneous active and passive acoustic telemetry data from bonnetheads, we determined that ROM has a negative effect on passive acoustic detection success. More investigation into the effects of environmental conditions and movement on detection efficiency is needed as passive telemetry becomes more widely used to study aquatic animal movement.

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Code written for data analysis for this study will be made available from the author by request.


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We thank Dr. Chip Cotton and Barry Walton for their assistance in managing and maintaining our acoustic receiver array. We thank our many field volunteers that assisted in fishing, tagging, diving, and tracking efforts for this project, including Joe Miguez, who assisted us in many days of active tracking. We thank Dr. Simon Dedman for guidance navigating data analysis. Lastly, we thank the staff at the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory for being so constantly helpful and available to us, specifically Captain Matt Edwards, Travis Mohrman, and Diving Safety Officer Chris Peters.


This project was funded by the Helen Louise Lee Undergraduate Research Award funded by Dr. Jim Lee, the Bess H. Ward Thesis Award funded by the Florida State University Department of Biological Science, and the The FSUCML Board of Trustees Graduate Student Research Fund.

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All the authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection were performed by Ashley Dawdy, Cheston Peterson, and Bryan Keller. Analysis was performed by Ashley Dawdy. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Ashley Dawdy, and all the authors commented on various versions of the manuscript. All the authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ashley M. Dawdy.

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Ethics approval

All the procedures involving animals were conducted in accordance with approved protocols by the FSU Animal Care and Use Committee, protocol #1718. Animals were captured under proper permitting from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (SAL 1092).

The datasets generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Dawdy, A.M., Peterson, C.T., Keller, B.A. et al. Tidal and diel effects on the movement and space use of bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and bonnetheads (Sphyrna tiburo) in a Florida Estuary. Environ Biol Fish (2022).

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  • Estuary
  • Acoustic telemetry
  • Movement ecology
  • Elasmobranch